Tory ‘disappointed’ that Horsham town champion dumped as licensing chair despite cross-party support

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Conservative Horsham District councillor Peter Burgess has said he is ‘disappointed’ that town champion Christian Mitchell was voted out of the role of chairman of the authority’s licensing committee despite having cross-party support.

On Thursday, weeks after his Tory colleagues stripped him of his chairman-elect role on the council, Mr Mitchell (Con, Holbrook West) suffered the same fate in his licensing position - in a vote that emphasised just how divided and bitter the Conservative group has become.

Mr Mitchell who has vigorously opposed his party’s planning strategy for massive development in north Horsham said: “I have paid the price – again - for putting my residents first.”

He had been chairman of the licensing committee since 2007 when the then leader Liz Kitchen proposed him for the role.

Notably it was Mr Mitchell who closed down the former Horse & Groom public house, on East Street, which is now a leading restaurant.

Earlier this year, there was a storm of protest when Mr Mitchell was deselected as chairman-elect of the council in what colleague Peter Burgess (Con, Holbrook West) described as a ‘three line whip’ vote in the Tory group.

Mr Mitchell said then he had paid the price for articulating the concerns of his residents about the North Horsham plan.

This week, on Thursday (June 12), Mr Mitchell - a barrister by profession - was again proposed to chair licensing by Mr Burgess. He was seconded by Lib Dem Dr David Skipp (Roffey North) and supported by Independent George Cockman (Ashurst and Steyning).

But Conservatives, from the South Downs, voted instead for Jim Sanson (Con, Chantry), after a proposal from Brian Donnelly (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham).

Following the vote, Mr Burgess said: “I am disappointed that Councillor Mitchell was not selected as Chairman of the Licensing Committee at the meeting on Thursday 12 June, when he had full cross party support. He has been an effective leader of it since 2007, using his expertise as a lawyer and barrister to ensure licensing issues were properly handled by the Council.”

Mr Mitchell said: “Last Saturday more than 300 people turned out to protest not only against HDC’s plan but the process and procedure that led to the vote on April 30. Nearly the same in number came on Monday to North Horsham Parish Council’s meeting to protest.

“I voted against HDC’s Proposed Strategy and have continually spoken out against it since the vote on April 30.

“By stripping me of my role as Chairman of Licensing I’ve been punished for advocating my residents’ views.

“Last week Cllr John Bailey was sacked as Deputy Cabinet member to Cllr Jonathan Chowen. He voted against the Proposed Strategy on April 30.

“Those that voted against the plan on April 30 have had positions on the council removed from them. That in law is ‘whipping’ and is yet another reason why the plan is not ‘sound’.

“It seems there is no place at all in the local Conservative council group under the leadership of Ray Dawe and Helena Croft for another view that differs from the leadership.

“This is especially concerning when it comes to planning – which needs the utmost transparency.

“These are matters that will need to be put before the planning Inspector in November 2014 at the public enquiry.”